Choose a Challenge: 5 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Saving Money

published May 16, 2016
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(Image credit: Breanne Johnsen)

There’s a lot of power in the concept of the personal challenge. Even those who self-describe as the ‘laziest’ among us can find the motivation and willpower to cut their spending or pad their savings when you turn something boring like budgeting into a game. Here are a handful of trick-yourself challenges to do just that.

Three Ways to Curb Spending

There are two ways to make money: Earn more or spend less. Here are three ways to challenge yourself – even just for a day or week – to do the latter.

No-Restaurant Month

Cut your restaurant spending down to zero for an entire calendar month. No dinners out, no takeout, and no coffee runs either. Just good old fashioned home cooking (or microwaving, whatever suits your skill set).

Restaurants not your thing? If you already cook at home a bunch, you can translate the no-restaurant challenge to your own lifestyle, choosing instead to forgo spending on booze, manicures, or whatever your vice may be.

Zero-Dollar Days

This idea comes from a recent Reddit thread on /r/personalfinance: One user and his wife schedule two zero-dollar days in their weeks. For those pre-determined, pre-decided days, they don’t spend a single cent on anything:

“It really forces you to pack your own lunch, make a pot of coffee at home and avoid all those little (and unnecessary) expenditures that add up over course of a month.”

Cash-Only Weekends

Does your budget get away from you on the weekends? Instead of swiping your debit card a few dozen times each day, take one stop by the ATM on Friday afternoon to withdraw as much cash as you’ve budgeted for the weekend’s fun money. Use the cash to pay for dinner, drinks and entertainment… until it runs out. You’ll force yourself to be more mindful of your weekend spending, and hopefully budget to make a modest amount of cash last until Monday.

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Two Ideas to Jump-Start Your Savings

Here are two twists on the same concept: Letting the date dictate your savings plan, and making a game out of socking away spare cash.

30-Day Money Challenge

Start on the first day of the month by saving just $1; you can make an online transfer into a separate account, or physically drop a dollar into a piggy bank. On the second day, save another $2. On day 3, $3, and so on until you’re putting away $30 on the 30th day of the month (or another $31 on the 31st, if you want to round out the month). By the time you’re flipping the page on the calendar, you’ll have socked away at least $465 for yourself.

52-Week Money Challenge

Want to keep it going for longer than a month? Extend the concept to weeks of the year. On week one of your challenge, save $1. Then, gradually increase your savings throughout the year, saving $2 in week two and $3 in week 3 and so on. By the end of the year, you’ll have saved $1,378.

One caveat: The 52-week challenge gets tricky towards the end, as you’re saving around $50 a week for the final month. One way to get around this is to “hack” the challenge by saving the same dollar amounts just in a different order. You can print out a 52-Week Challenge worksheet (Google around, you’ll find one you like, probably with a bank logo at the bottom) and cross of the amounts as you save them, in whatever order works best for you. So if you make a bonus at work at the start of your challenge, you can make that your $52 week. If an unexpected car repair has you short on cash, make that your $1 or $2 week. Keep going until you’ve crossed off every dollar amount at the end of one year.

Will any of these strategies work for you? Have you ever taken on a personal challenge to save money?